Longtime home inspector Chris Chirafisi offers this stark warning to anyone considering buying a home that survived the catastrophic flooding brought about by Hurricane Harvey in South Texas: “Water is the biggest enemy of a home. It’s not even close to second.

What makes water so insidious is that it can affect almost every part of a home in ways that are not easily detectable through a typical inspection. Even a brief flood can force a homeowner to  rip out drywall and insulation because of concerns about mold. In a situation such as Harvey, which left many homes flooded for days if not weeks, the results can be even worse.

“A lot of times when you have that amount of damage, that increases the amount of humidity and moisture that’s released in the house,” said Chirafisi, product and technical training manager at OnCourse Learning’s American Home Inspectors Training. “So, typically, the house is ripped down to the studs at a minimum. Basically, you have to rebuild.”

Mold on a poured concrete wall would not a be a big concern, Chirafisi said, but mold on a bedroom or living room wall is another matter “because that’s typically a location that should not see any moisture or penetration.”

“It’s a big deal when there’s a flood”

What most concerns Kevin O’Malley, who became one of the first home inspectors in California in 1984, is that flooded areas attract home flippers interested in making a quick buck. In order to make the most profit flipping a home, such people don’t always make the costly repairs a flood-damaged home should receive. Instead, a flipper might make modest repairs and conceal other problems with a fresh coat of paint.

In addition to creating mold inside the walls and soaking the insulation, flood waters can create other unseen issues, said O’Malley, who founded and recently sold Home Owners Network, which provides a variety of services to homeowners. O’Malley said other problems that can result from flooding include damp wood inside walls, rusting of mechanical features inside walls and electrical issues.

“It’s a big deal when there’s a flood. It’s a really big deal,” said O’Malley, who still works for HON. “There’s almost no going backward. You’ve got to start over again almost. So much so that sometimes you have to redo the lumber if you can’t get that to dry out.”

 

Reassurance after a flood

For the home inspector, detecting hidden problems isn’t easy. O’Malley said an inspector will try to “find those spots that those fixer-uppers missed that give you some clue or indication that, ‘Wait a minute; they fixed this up, but I see this little bit that could mean there’s more hidden inside or behind the new paint.’”

O’Malley said some home inspectors are using infrared cameras to detect moisture inside walls. However, because an inspector can’t tear out a wall to verify a problem, the best course of action for an inspector working in a flooded area is to recommend that the buyer request as much documentation of repairs as possible. For instance, in a home that received 3 feet of flooding, O’Malley said “everything from 3 feet down, and potentially above, should have been looked at, opened up, dried out, replaced if it was damaged.”

If the seller can’t document such repairs, it might be best to move on to another property.

A trustworthy seller not only will have paper documents showing evidence of repairs but photographs, as well. A friend of O’Malley whose home flooded took dozens of photos of the repairs he made. And because repairs often result in insurance claims, the insurance company can be another source of documentation for the buyer to consider.